Amr ibn alʿĀṣ al-Sahmī (Arabic: عمرو بن العاص السهميc. 573 – 664) was the Arab commander who led the Muslim conquest of Egypt and served as its governor in 640–646 and 658–664. The son of a wealthy Qurayshite, Amr embraced Islam in c. 629 and was assigned important roles in the nascent Muslim community by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The first caliph Abu Bakr (r. 632–634) appointed Amr as a commander of the conquest of Syria. He conquered most of Palestine, to which he was appointed governor, and helped lead the Arabs to decisive victories over the Byzantines at the battles of Ajnadayn and Yarmouk in 634 and 636.

Amr launched the conquest of Egypt on his own initiative in late 639, defeating the Byzantines in a string of victories ending with the surrender of Alexandria in 641 or 642. It was the swiftest of the early Muslim conquests. This was followed by westward advances by Amr as far as Tripoli in present-day Libya. In a treaty signed with the Byzantine governor Cyrus, Amr guaranteed the security of Egypt’s population and imposed a poll tax on non-Muslim adult males. He maintained the Coptic-dominated bureaucracy and cordial ties with the Coptic patriarch Benjamin. He founded Fustat as the provincial capital with the mosque later called after him at its center. Amr ruled relatively independently, acquired significant wealth, and upheld the interests of the Arab conquerors who formed Fustat’s garrison in relation to the central authorities in Medina. After gradually diluting Amr’s authority, Caliph Uthman (r. 644–656) dismissed him in 646 after accusations of incompetency from his successor Abdallah ibn Sa’d.

After mutineers from Egypt assassinated Uthman, Amr distanced himself from their cause, despite previously instigating opposition against Uthman. In the ensuing First Muslim Civil War, Amr joined Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan against Caliph Ali (r. 656–661) due to promises of the governorship of Egypt and its tax revenues. Amr served as Mu’awiya’s representative in the abortive arbitration talks to end the war. Afterward, he wrested control of Egypt from Ali’s loyalists, killing its governor Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, and assumed the governorship instead. Mu’awiya kept him in his post after establishing the Umayyad Caliphate in 661 and Amr ruled the province until his death.

In late 641, Amr besieged Alexandria. It fell virtually without resistance after Cyrus, who had since been restored to office, and Amr finalized a treaty in Babylon guaranteeing the security of Egypt’s inhabitants and imposing a poll tax on adult males.[50] The date of the city’s surrender was likely November 642.[51] Taking advantage of the uncertain political situation in the wake of Umar’s death in 644 and the meager Arab military presence in Alexandria, Emperor Constans II (r. 641–668) dispatched a naval expedition led by a certain Manuel which occupied the city and killed most of its Arab garrison in 645.[52] Alexandria’s elite and most of the inhabitants assisted the Byzantines; medieval Byzantine, Coptic and, to a lesser extent, Muslim sources indicate the city was not firmly in Arab hands during the preceding three years.[53] Byzantine forces pushed deeper into the Nile Delta, but Amr forced them back at the Battle of Nikiou. He besieged and captured Alexandria in the summer of 646; most of the Byzantines, including Manuel, were slain, many of its inhabitants were killed and the city was burned until Amr ordered an end to the onslaught.[54] Afterward, Muslim rule in Alexandria was gradually solidified.[55]


Amr “regulated the government of the country [Egypt], administration of justice and the imposition of taxes”, according to the historian A. J. Wensinck.[4] During his siege of Babylon, Amr had erected an encampment near the fortress.[60] He originally intended for Alexandria to serve as the Arabs’ capital in Egypt, but Umar rejected this on the basis that no body of water, i.e. the Nile, should separate the caliph from his army.[61][62][63][c] Instead, following Alexandria’s surrender, in 641 or 642,[65] Amr made his encampment near Babylon the permanent garrison town (miṣr) of Fustat, the first town founded by the Arabs in Egypt.[66][67][68] Its location along the eastern bank of the Nile River and at the head of the Nile Delta and edge of the Eastern Desert strategically positioned it to dominate the Upper and Lower halves of Egypt.[60] Fustat’s proximity to Babylon, where Amr also established an Arab garrison, afforded the Arab settlers a convenient means to employ and oversee the Coptic bureaucratic officials who inhabited Babylon and proved critical to running the day-to-day affairs of the Arab government.